Anger, Frustration, Hope heard Throughout Diocese
It has been seven months since the release of the Grand Jury Report and Bishop Ronald W. Gainer recently completed his listening session tour of the Diocese. During these sessions, Bishop Gainer has listened to the faithful, survivors and non-Catholics on the impact of the report. Many expressed dismay over the handling of sexual abuse cases in the past and a loss of trust in the leadership of the Church.
“Tonight is an opportunity to have a frank and open conversation about the past, present and future of the Church,” said Bishop Gainer at the beginning of many of the sessions.
Bishop Gainer hosted nine listening sessions throughout the Diocese from January through March. With attendance varying from 140 to more than 400 at some sessions, the bishop spoke to more than 2,240 people in total who attended the sessions.
While the sessions have been filled with raw emotion, these sessions are also a step in the healing process for the Diocese.
Comments, Questions, Feelings
The most common themes from the listening sessions have been related to transparency, the use of finances, hierarchy accountability and the statute of limitations.
At each session, at least one person asked Bishop Gainer to provide more transparency than what has been seen in the past. The bishop acknowledged that one session is certainly not enough, but the listening sessions are the first step in the process the Diocese is taking to be transparent. He reiterated his commitment to communication and encouraged those attending to continue reading The Catholic Witness and visiting the Diocese’s website for the most updated information on Diocesan programs and operations.
Financial accountability has also been a common theme, especially regarding the Survivor Compensation Program.
“No amount of money will erase the harm or heal the permanent wounds done to survivors of abuse, but the (compensation) fund is a sign of amends,” said Bishop Gainer at the York session. He reiterated that the funding source for this program will be in the form of a loan from the Priests’ Pension Fund, other existing Diocesan assets and hopefully from insurance proceeds. Bishop Gainer added that as our compensation program includes abuse from clergy of other dioceses and religious orders, he has also asked these groups to assist with the financial compensation for survivors.
There has also been much anger and frustration expressed toward the Church hierarchy during the listening sessions. Bishop Gainer explained that the abuse cover up did stem from a culture that valued the institution over the person. Such a culture, he added, cannot be tolerated in the Church.
Bishop Gainer also devoted time during each session to address questions related to the statute of limitations.
“We have said many times that we support revising the criminal Statute of Limitations,” said the bishop. “The civil statute of limitations reform, specifically the so-called ‘window’ legislation, is not legislation we can support. There is the important issue of whether such legislation is possible under the Pennsylvania Constitution. An open window on old claims would force the Diocese into bankruptcy, causing the Diocese to severely curtail its ministries. Our Catholic schools, Religious Education programs, RCIA, Respect Life, campus ministries, hospital and nursing home chaplaincy, multicultural ministries, youth athletic programs and the more than 20 human services programs we partially support through Catholic Charities, would all be drastically impacted.”
Bishop Gainer went on to explain that as the steward of the Diocese and its resources, he has a responsibility to ensure the Diocese is assisting as many people as possible. Window legislation would make that impossible.
Bishop Gainer added that the Diocese wants to make restitution to survivors, which is why the compensation program has been established, in addition to the spiritual and mental health supports the Diocese offers. “The compensation program is a present reality and we invite survivors who quality to take advantage of it,” he said.
Not all the feedback and comments expressed to Bishop Gainer during the listening sessions were negative. Several survivors expressed gratitude for the Diocese’s work to help them with their healing, for offering the compensation program and for giving them a venue to tell their stories. Others expressed thanks for all that the Diocese has done to protect children and the efforts that are ongoing. One survivor spoke of finally being able to forgive and that they found great healing through prayer and continued faith. Still others who have attended the sessions spoke to the many faithful and holy members of the clergy throughout the Diocese.
Bishop Gainer will consider all the feedback that has been gathered from the listening sessions when making plans for future programs for the Diocese. Recognizing that healing and restoring trust will take time, Bishop Gainer prays those who attended the sessions found them to be a helpful first step in this process.
During the sessions, Bishop Gainer also explained the many steps the Diocese has taken, some that have been in practice for more than 15 years, to protect children. These steps include:
- Turning every allegation of abuse over to law enforcement immediately for investigation.
- Having an intense seminarian formation program with psychological testing for indicators, and human formation.
- The reconstitution of the Diocesan Pastoral Council to give laity a clearer voice in helping to address pastoral issues.
- The release of the names of the accused; the removal of names of bishops and priests from buildings throughout the diocese; and the lifting of non-disclosure agreements on August 1, 2018.
- The establishment of the Survivor Compensation Program with an independent administrator.
- Entering into a contract with Janet McNeal as the Safe Environment Coordinator.
Those who were unable to attend one of the listening sessions but would like to ask Bishop Gainer a question may do so by emailing AskBishopGainer@hbgdiocese.org. A selection of questions and answers from the listening sessions will be published in the next several issues of The Catholic Witness and on the Diocese’s Youth Protection website, at www.YouthProtectionHBG.com.
By Rachel Bryson, M.S., The Catholic Witness